Public works of art honoring Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, whose exposure to air pollution contributed to her death at the age of nine, will be on display near her home in south London next year.
Breathe: 2022 by Dryden Goodwin will appear in locations close to South Circular Road, which run within 25 yards of the house where Ella lived. The artwork – a focal point in events marking Lewisham’s year as London’s city of culture – revisits Goodwin’s 2012 creation Breathe, which depicted his five-year-old son breathing in and out.
Goodwin will draw a handful of local environmental activists, including Ella’s mother, Rosamund Kissi-Debrah. Sequences of still images appear to be animated as people walk or drive past them, giving the appearance of the subjects working on breathing.
“I’m interested in the way air maintains the body but can also destroy the body,” said Dryden, who works with Network Rail and Transport for London to identify suitable locations for the installations. The artist, who lives and works in Lewisham, said Ella’s death had “increased awareness of the environmental crisis” in the area.
Ella died after an asthma attack in 2013. Last year, a forensic pathologist found in a landmark judgment that “exposure to excessive air pollution” had contributed to her death, adding that “Ella’s entire life was lived in the immediate vicinity of highly polluting roads”.
Since her daughter’s death, Rosamund Kissi-Debrah has been campaigning to raise awareness of air pollution.
Breathe, which was located on an 8-meter-high screen at St Thomas’ hospital facing the Houses of Parliament, incorporated more than 1,300 drawings of Goodwin’s five-year-old son. Now a teenager who grew up in Lewisham, he will also star in Breathe 2022.
The artwork is part of a comprehensive program that will mark Lewisham’s year as London’s cultural district. They include a mass dance performance by 200 local artists highlighting the positive impact of migration in the area and a celebration of Lewisham’s musical heritage, including pop, grime, afrobeat, jazz, global, classical and punk, and with Dave Okumu and Linton Kwesi Johnson.